Monday, June 23, 2008

Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky

Fierce debate has been raging in the JP letters page of late regarding the general state of Soekarno Hatta airport and specifically the upkeep of its many toilets. I therefore decided, in the interests of public hygiene, to pay a visit to the airport myself in order to check on the condition of its facilities. The fact that I was flying to Bali in order to attend a wedding only added to the urgency of my mission. One’s general toilet freshness and underpant hygiene should always be of the highest possible caliber when attending a friend’s nuptials.

As I barreled up the airport toll road in my rather fetid taxi, the sun broke over the surrounding lagoon-like marshland, reflecting off the water and illuminating the trees; a glimpse perhaps of a tranquil, submerged future of coastal floods and drowned cities. Indeed, Soekarno Hatta airport is already sometimes completely cut off from its mother city by heavy rain sloshing across the toll road, a fact which only served to add prophetic gravitas to the still, primordial pools of Cengkareng.

Yes, it’s carbon payback time it would seem. Mother Nature is taking revenge on the air travel that has visited domestic violence upon her and bloodied her nose. One recent UK government report paints a scenario of a world 50 years hence in which all air travel has ended and the water has inundated all low lying coastal areas.

In the meantime though, I had to get to this wedding and I therefore eased my conscience by resolving to hold in my farts for a period of one year in order to offset my carbon emissions (methane being a greenhouse gas 6 times stronger than carbon dioxide you understand).

Terminal one eventually hoved into view like some ancient temple in the middle of the huge, surrounding lake. I’ve always quite liked Soekarno Hatta and its laid back, minimalistic ambience. Other global airports are feted for their hyperactive, hypermodern micro-economies of hi-tech monorails links, Wifi connections and fastidious, besuited businessmen of every ethnicity. Soekarno Hatta is generally a relaxing and supine place in comparison and this seems to instill a sense of calm passivity in departing passengers, which is probably just as well given Indonesian domestic aviation’s record in recent years.

Surreal British novelist Will Self has pointed out that flying is just about the most extreme thing that your average person undertakes during his or her life. And when you think about it, sitting eating a mini portion of Boeuf Bourginon whilst traveling at 600km/h suspended several kilometers above the Earth’s surface is indeed a pretty untenable state for a human being to be in.

Self believes that airports should reflect the amazing technological feat that can catapult you across the world in a huge jet liner. Check in desks should be staffed by employees in Valkari helmets and flowing silver capes who great you with a loud booming, “Today Sir, we ride on Icarus’s wings and soar to the very heavens! Er..window or aisle seat?” The runways should be lined with Greek statues and Wagnerian heavy metal music should be played over the aircraft’s PA system during take off.

Possibly though the Rp.30,000 airport tax levied on departing passengers at Soekarno Hatta won’t stretch to realizing Self’s extravagant vision and as it stood I had to make do with the airport’s calm, spacious atmosphere.

In the departure area I browsed the magazines and books in the shop and bought myself a relaxing can of beer, the better for to calm my pre flight nerves you understand. I sat and sipped at my can, biding my time (even the Jakarta Post had sold out).

A sense of ennui started to descend upon me and induce a resigned sense of calm. Still, at least I wasn’t being fleeced of all my Rupiah as returning domestic servants often are.
I would once again accept my fate and whatever the Indonesian skyways would deal me this fine day. Should my Air Asia flight go spinning into the Java Sea then I would sink to my watery grave with an expression of total Zen calm on my face.

The beer worked its merry way down through my internal plumbing and roused me from my meditation. It was finally time to cross the Rubicon of “Beware Slippery Floor” signs and head for the rest rooms. Balinese masks hung on the wall next to the entrances, demarcating the male/female parting of the ways in a suitably ethnic style.

The particular toilet that I had chosen to drain my spuds in didn’t prove to be too bad at all, despite the inevitable dissolved porcelain and heavily watered down liquid soap. A pleasant picture of a waterfall helped me with the task in hand and the whole experience wasn’t the vile undertaking recounted by various JP correspondents.

Load lightened, I strolled up to the departure lounge and passengers with express boarding passes were quickly called. I’ve never really understood the express boarding concept. Surely the trick is to be the last one to board the aircraft rather than the first, thus minimizing the time that one spends cramped up with one’s knees around one’s ears breathing in other less carbon conscious passengers’ greenhouse gases.

Anyway, time to stop writing and enjoy an Air Asia snack. The Rp.25,000 Special Fried Rice looks suitably ghastly.